Tag Archives: ipoh echo editorial

Listen, Listen and Listen

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I have never expected that the beginning of the New Year would be so tumultuous. Topping the list is of course the incident involving one overbearing lady berating a female undergrad at a university forum. The footage of the video, recorded on December 8, 2012, went viral and scored several thousands hits on YouTube and on online news portals. It embarrassed the Establishment so much that it prompted a deputy minister and the UMNO Youth chief to engage in damage control to prevent it from affecting the ruling coalition’s chances in the coming 13th General Election.

editor deskWhat is most infuriating, however, is the audacity of Sharifah Zohra Jabeen, the speaker at the Universiti Utara Malaysia forum, in chiding the poor student for speaking her mind. Zohra’s now famous mono syllable, “listen” which she repeated 11 times when confronting Bawani, the student on the lecture hall floor, has gained such notoriety that it has become the opening remarks of many speeches made in reference to the ruling coalition.

Zohra’s mannerism typifies the top-down mentality associated with those in the corridors of power. The contemptuous “you-listen-when-I-talk” attitude does not go down well with the rakyat today. The days of “the government knows better” paradigm are long gone. Perhaps, a more realistic and holistic approach in engaging the rakyat needs to be adopted. But this is easier said than done.

What is most disgusting about the whole episode is how unfazed this cocky little lady has been. After coming out of hiding, she issued a statement forgiving Bawani for her outburst and not one of remorse for her own actions. The extent of Zohra’s cockiness is simply mind-boggling. This could be the result of indoctrination conducted on a grand scale to re-orientate the minds of the youths, especially the Malays. One gets such subtle messages from the mainstream media, both the print and electronic forms.

The antics of Biro Tata Negara (National Civics Bureau or BTN) are well known. Established in 1974 as the Youth Research Unit (Unit Penyelidikan Belia) under the Youth and Culture Ministry, it was renamed and transferred to the Prime Minister’s Department in 1981. The bureau’s stated objective then was “to nurture the spirit of patriotism and commitment to excellence among Malaysians and to train leaders and future leaders to support the nation’s development efforts”.

However, no sooner had it been transferred to the PM’s Department, the programmes were revamped and syllabus revised. They became controversial and were deemed to explicitly promote Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Supremacy) and the legitimacy of the ruling coalition. In late 2009, opposition-held Selangor and Penang state governments issued a ban prohibiting state civil servants, employees of state subsidiaries and students at state-owned institutions from attending BTN courses.

That put paid to some of the lofty aims of the agency long regarded an appendage of the Establishment and often referred to as a propaganda machine akin to Joseph Goebbels’s infamous Reichskammer (Reich Chamber). Nazi Germany’s Propaganda Minister, Dr Joseph Goebbels had successfully divided the press, radio, film, music and literature into divisions or chambers with influential figures heading them. The objective of these chambers was the purge of Jews, socialists and liberals, as well as practitioners of “degenerate” art forms such as abstract art and atonal music.

One other disturbing development, which is, irrefutably, the work of a cunning mind, is the on-going Royal Commission of Inquiry on the granting of citizenship to illegal immigrants in Sabah. Former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir’s reasons for his “wisdom” seem so flimsy and devoid of substance. His allusion to first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman’s granting of citizenship to over a million Chinese, Indians and others prior to Independence Day on August 31, 1957 is in poor taste. This is definitely a cheap way to deflect criticisms directed at him.

On the subject of immigrants, both legal and illegal, one should take a ride into downtown Ipoh on weekends or on public holidays. You will be overwhelmed by their number. The city’s main thoroughfare, Jalan Sultan Idris, is literally swarmed by them. If the National Registration Department’s P6 programme to legalise these foreigners, conducted nationwide in 2011, is to be taken seriously, I am worried for the future of our children, and their children after them.

The result of the January 26 by-election in Singapore is a good indicator of what awaits those who have a stranglehold on power. Workers’ Party candidate Lee Li Lian, 34, a middle-class corporate trainer, beat People’s Action Party candidate Koh Poh Koon, 40, a prominent surgeon who was backed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in the ruling party’s stronghold of Punggol East. High on the voters’ list of discontent is the influx of immigrants which has resulted in job losses, rise in housing prices, social problems and straining public services. The scenario is no different here.

In view of the foregoing, I feel it is only appropriate that those in positions of power take heed of developments around them. The conundrum will only be answered if they listen, and listen attentively to the wishes of the rakyat. Doing a ‘Zohra Jabeen’ is definitely not the way forward.

Fathol Zaman Bukhari

My Wish for 2013

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Marina Bay SandsIt has been sometime since I last visited Singapore, the “tiny red dot” south of Johore and linked to the Malayan hinterland by an overused causeway – a subject of contention by our ruling elite. The other entry point into the island republic is the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link (Tuas Second Link to Singaporeans). This 1920 metre twin-deck bridge connects Kampung Ladang at Tanjung Kupang in Johore to Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim at Tuas in Singapore.

Opened on January 2, 1998, the bridge was built to reduce traffic congestion at the Causeway. But travellers still prefer the Causeway in spite of it being jam-packed almost every moment of the day. Distance and accessibility could be the reasons why the bridge is not too popular with motorists from both sides of the geographical divide.

So much has changed that it is no longer easy to identify places which I frequented in the late 70s and early 80s when attending courses at the Army Training Centre in Ulu Tiram. Back in the old days the ringgit was much stronger than the Singapore dollar. The exchange rate then was 70 Malaysian cents to one Singapore dollar. The disparity in rate today is not worth mentioning. We used to buy fruits, as the ringgit could be stretched and was considered legal tender in areas around Woodlands and Sembawang. One popular spot was Bugis Street. You got to see plenty of action here besides Pantai Lido and the old Istana grounds in Johore Bahru.

While Singapore, through good governance and a world-class education system, has progressed by leaps and bounds, Malaysia is still locked in a time warp with little chance of an escape. Today the island republic boasts a purchasing power parity which is third highest in the world. A nation with little natural resources to optimise, Singapore has become a First World entity with an economy second to none. Its northern neighbour, however, has yet to overcome its Third World mentality and insecurity, preferring to look beyond the republic for solace. It is therefore no surprise that when it comes to comparison the countries so often alluded to are Thailand and Indonesia not Singapore, Taiwan or South Korea. Soon it will be Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ethiopia on the African continent.

It is not difficult to comprehend why Singapore is far ahead in almost every aspect. It has a world class public transport system, a corruption-free government and a judicial system considered the best in Asia. Little wonder it has been rated highly by the world business community; something which is alien in Malaysia. Unfortunately, learning from the Singaporeans is the last thing on our ruling elite’s minds.

You need not go far to find why we have plenty of catching up to do. Just switch on the television. Singapore TV is filled with programmes that provide viewers with information on the world and knowledge on anything one cares to know. They tell Singaporeans that life is to be lived and enjoyed and not to be suffered. You don’t see politicians on the idiot box extolling the virtues of the ruling party, glorifying the rights of the “sons of the soil” and the ideals of a “transformed” Prime Minister.

The programmes, unlike ours, are designed not to insult viewers’ intelligence but to complement. In spite of having been an independent nation for over 55 years we are still being treated like children.

My trip, on the eve of the New Year, came with a provision. I was told to take a break and enjoy a dip in the 150-metre infinity swimming pool on top of Marina Bay Sands, one of Singapore’s two integrated resorts. I wish to thank my son for the opportunity. Located on the world’s largest cantilevered platform almost 200 metres above street level, the pool is a total delight while the view of the city from the periphery is simply ravishing.

Plenty of thoughts and planning have gone into making Singapore what it is today. I am certain that among the planners are bona fide Malaysians who, for want of a better future, have parked themselves permanently in Singapore. We have lost many good talents to our southern neighbour. Need we lose more?

So, having “survived” the Mayan doomsday prediction of December 21, 2012, I have every reason to be optimistic. With the 13th General Election looming in the horizon, my one wish for 2013 is for the country to take the path of recovery. We have been the laughing stock of the world far too long. Enough is enough.

Fathol  Zaman Bukhari

In Favour Of Foodbanks

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by Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Kedai Rakyat 1MalaysiaIf statistics on the poor, the underprivileged and the marginalised are to be taken seriously, the problem faced by the homeless and the hungry can never be taken lightly. How would you react when told that nearly 40 percent of Malaysians earn less than RM1500 a month? It is a fact. Forty percent of 28 million is 11.2 million. Therefore, over 11 million Malaysians earn barely enough to scrape through the rigors of living in a supposedly land of plenty.  The definition of plenty is very subjective, depending on which side of the social spectrum you are in.   Although the margin is much higher than the national poverty line of RM750, a take-home pay of RM1500 per month is relatively low, especially if one has many mouths to feed.

With the escalating price of necessities, a family of five may have to scrape and scrimp to see itself through. Life is becoming harder not by the months but by the days, as personal challenges become more acute over time.

Although the government can literally play hide and seek with figures, the reality on the ground is something else. Claiming an annual inflation rate of 2 percent based on a basketful of goods and services is absurd, as the basket is always filled with items that are picked to give the kind of figure the government envisages. Calculating CPI (Consumer Price Index) based on the time-honoured method is no longer practical. A more realistic and holistic approach in defining CPI is desirous, one which reflects reality rather than a simple single-digit number.

Since prices of essentials have much to do with the volatility of energy and sugar prices, any increase in the prices of these items will have a definitive impact on the livelihood of the rakyat. Since General Election 2004, petrol and sugar prices have been revised several times. The aftereffects are not minimal, as some would prefer to describe. With each revision in energy and sugar prices, the number of people who go hungry, broke and without homes increases exponentially.  A recent case of an ex-serviceman being imprisoned for stealing some food items from a supermarket exemplifies the plight of the hungry, the poor and the homeless in our country.

If feeding these hungry Malaysians is beyond the capacity of our ill-defined and poorly organised welfare system, the introduction of food banks may be the solution. What is a food bank then?

A food bank is a non-profit, charitable organisation that distributes food to those who have difficulty purchasing enough to avoid hunger.

In the United States and Australia, food banks usually operate on the “warehouse” model. They act as food storage and distribution depots for smaller front line agencies. They do not give out food directly to the hungry. After the food is collected and sorted for quality, these food banks distribute it to non-profit community or government agencies such as food pantries, food closets, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, orphanages and schools. Outside of the US and Australia, the “front line” model is common. Such food banks give out most or all of their food directly to the end-users.

Unfortunately, the only active food banks in Asia are the ones in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. A food bank exists in New Delhi, India. The closest we have come to a food bank is something awkwardly similar in practice but not in spirit. Goods can be purchased at these “shops” at a much reduced price compared to supermarkets and sundry shops.

The proliferation of the 1Malaysia people’s shops (Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia) seems promising at first but when accusations of sub-standard and poor quality goods are levelled at these stores, their operability becomes suspect. Today only a few remain opened.

Although no concerted efforts have been taken to introduce food banks on a grand scale, the idea is worth a try considering the rise in the number of the poor and the hungry. The good point about food banks is that they provide a solution to the problem of hunger that does not require resources of the state. The long-term benefits are plentiful. It encourages an active community spirit that is based on volunteerism, something which is sorely missing in our Malaysian society.

Hadi Awang for Prime Minister

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by Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS)
Dato’ Seri Abdul Hadi Awang

Delegates at the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party’s (PAS) 58th Muktamar (General Assembly) in Kota Baru on November 17 were amused when a member proposed party president Dato’ Seri Abdul Hadi Awang for the post of Prime Minister if the Opposition wins the 13th General Election.

Hairun Nizam, from the PAS Ulama wing, told the crowd of over 1000 delegates that PAS members should not lobby for other leaders to hold the post, claiming that Abdul Hadi was the “best person” to lead the nation.

Hairun’s suggestion and the resounding support from party delegates contradict the stand taken by the Pakatan Rakyat leadership, which has repeatedly endorsed its de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for the post of Prime Minister.

At the pact’s mammoth Himpunan Merdeka Rakyat rally in the Sultan Muhammad IV Stadium, Kota Baru on November 16, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang reaffirmed this stand, declaring that PR parties DAP, PKR and PAS were united in selecting Anwar to replace Umno’s Datuk Seri Najib Razak should the pact wrest federal power in the next general election.

“Anwar will be the seventh prime minister, not the sixth,” he told the tens of thousands gathered in the stadium.

PR parties have to repeatedly reaffirm their endorsement of Anwar as prime minister-designate to deflect criticisms from their nemeses in Barisan Nasional (BN) that they were unable to achieve consensus on numerous issues, the post of PM being one.

MCA President Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said that the Opposition was unfit to rule the country due to the numerous conflicts among the pact’s three parties. He pointed out that while some leaders have touted Anwar as prime minister, some have also said that the opposition leader was not the only qualified candidate for the post.

Kota Belud Member of Parliament, Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, said in his blog that Hadi Awang stood a fair chance of being appointed the Prime Minister. Rahman theorised,

According to Article 43(2a) of the Malaysian Constitution, the Yang DiPertuan Agong shall appoint Prime Minister a Member of the House of Representative who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House. I believe PAS knows BN just can’t stomach Anwar Ibrahim as the Prime Minister.

What does that mean then?

It means that, if PAS demands for vote of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat to show who gets the biggest support or confidence to be the Prime Minister, and if BN MPs, particularly Muslim MPs, vote in favour of PAS, then it is possible that the PAS candidate will be the next Prime Minister and not Anwar.

The statement by firebrand Hairun Nizam is to be expected, as he is from the fundamentalist wing of the party whose stance on religion is entrenched. All said and done, the fact that a lone delegate had uttered the unexpected, followed by a loud chorus of approval, did not mean that Hadi Awang would be the next Prime Minister.

PAS’s Muktamar is almost like UMNO’s General Assembly. The propensity of delegates to go over the top in their oratory discourses is to be expected, considering the pleasure such moments bestow on the speaker.

The mitigating factor is of course the eventual outcome of the general election. Whichever party or a coalition of parties wins will form the government. It does not matter if it were Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat. What matters is the welfare of the rakyat. The rakyat holds the trump card and they are the ones who will decide whether a change is necessary or not.

I feel, after 55 years of Independence, the rakyat can no longer be taken for granted. We should not be held to ransom forever. A two-party system may be the best option for us now considering the many misdeeds that have been committed by members of a coalition whose only interest is the perpetuation of its legacy and its grip on power.

And if I were to make a choice between the devil I know and the angel I don’t, I’d willingly choose the angel. And pray that the angel won’t eventually turn into yet another devil.

The best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing; the worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Ipoh bus terminal

A Terminal Too Far

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari 

The newly-opened Ipoh bus terminal in Meru Jaya has many distinctions balanced on both ends of the social spectrum. Without doubt it is spacious, modern and pleasant, as most would want it to be. Chic and comfort alone will not endear it to the public when accessibility is problematic. That seems to be the case with this multi-million-ringgit facility located next to the Mydin Hypermarket in Meru.

Ipoh bus terminal
Terminal Bas Amanjaya

Most Ipohites are unsure of its usefulness believing it to be another monstrous white elephant in the same league as Medan Kidd and Medan Gopeng. Ipoh’s dalliances with transport terminals or hubs, especially the ones that cater to the needs of the suffering public, never seem to work. The closest it ever came to concocting the right formula was Medan Kidd. In spite of its negativities, Medan Kidd still ranks the best in the city’s attempts at establishing something close to being a transport hub, in the true sense of the word.

Medan Kidd was ideally located. It had within its confines the city bus station, the inter-state bus terminal and the railway station. Commuters from outside of Ipoh could hop into a feeder bus for a short trip home or jump into a coach or a train for a connecting journey elsewhere. There was even a bus to take them to the airport although this entailed a much longer wait, as planes were infrequent.

Few complained as the services and facilities provided were good though they might not have been the best. We had what it took to make Ipohites proud, for a moment at least. Things changed when the inter-state bus terminal was relocated to Medan Gopeng in the late 1990s. Medan Gopeng was built for a reason – to satisfy the needs of a growing Bumiputra business class. But the design and layout of Medan Gopeng are flawed. Traffic congestion caused by human greed and insensitivity turned Medan Gopeng into what it is today, a grotesque facility for the physically and mentally challenged.

Ipoh bus terminalOn Thursday, October 18, members from ten non-governmental organisations, led by the President of the Perak Tourism Association (PTA), Haji Odzman Abd Kadir, visited the Amanjaya Bus Terminal in Meru Raya. The visit was to appraise the suitability of the facility vis-à-vis tourist arrivals. Being bona fide Ipohites, they were equally concerned with the role it plays in the overall scheme of things.

The entourage was briefed on site by the Executive Chairman of the Combined Bus Services Sdn Bhd, Mohammad Mat Isa. He stressed the benefits of the terminal, as was expected. “Since its opening on October 1, we have encountered several problems relating to both commuters and bus operators,” he said.

One major hitch which will affect commuters in a big way is the shuttle service. Shuttle service to the city is available from 6am to 9pm and may be extended to 12 midnight, if necessary. What is required, however, is a 24-hour service, one which is hassle-free.

“We’re working hard on it. However, taxi service is available at all hours,” he remarked. The one problem which commuters find hard to stomach is the atrocious fare these taxis charge. A 10-kilometre one-way trip from the terminal costs anything between RM12 to RM15, depending on the time of the day.

The introduction of coupon-ed taxis, like they do at KLIA and KL Sentral, is the only way out but it requires the blessing of the federal agency, SPAD (Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat). “We’ll resolve this in due time,” said Mohammed.

Exorbitant taxi fares aside, the terminal’s accessibility will definitely have a dampening effect on commuters. If someone has to change buses three times and burn a hole in his pocket to get to his house in Buntong, he will think twice about stopping at Ipoh’s gleaming Terminal Bas Amanjaya. That is the truth of the matter.

Orang Asli in Perak

Justice for the Innocents

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by Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Orang Asli in PerakIt may not be the landmark case of the year but the decision by the Tapah magistrate court to acquit and discharge four Orang Asli over the shooting of a tiger in Bukit Tapah Forest Reserve in 2010 was of significance to the Semai community. The four, Yok Mat Bah Chong, 48, Yok Rayau Yok Senian, 50, Yok Kalong Bah Papee, 51, and Hassan Bah Ong, 33, were charged under Section 64A of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 (Amended 1976 and 1988) which carries a fine of RM15,000 or a five-year jail sentence or both.

The incident took place in the forest reserve near Sungkai on February 4, 2010. According to Yok Mat, they shot the tiger to save their friend, Yok Meneh Yok Din, who was attacked by the animal while out foraging in the forest. The prosecution, adduced Magistrate Fairuz Adiba Ismail, had failed to prove a prima facie case against the four who hailed from different villages in Sungkai.

Based on a 2000 census, the Orang Asli population in Peninsular Malaysia stands at approximately 150,000 or 0.5 per cent of the overall population of the country. They are being divided into three groups, namely Negrito, Senoi and Proto-Malay. The Senoi forms the largest grouping with nearly 55 per cent of the total number. Senoi is concentrated in central peninsula, of which the Semai is the majority with nearly 35,000.

The Semai is found mostly in areas around Sungai Siput in the north to Tanjung Malim in the south. There is also a sizeable population in the Tapah and Cameron Highlands regions. A vital link during the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960), they were being courted by both the Communist insurgents and the authorities. The establishment of security posts in the Semai heartland of Cameron Highlands and areas bordering Perak and Kelantan bore testimony to this statement.

During my years in the army I had the opportunity to interact with these indigenous people in Post Brooke, Post Telanok and Post Poi. Their naivety and, to a large extent, simplicity are reasons why they have been taken advantage of by the unscrupulous among us. The pillage, unfortunately, continues to this day. For reasons of political expedience, the Orang Asli community has come under intense public scrutiny since the general election of 2008.

Orang Asli in PerakLegislations related to Orang Asli are the National Land Code 1965, Land Conservation Act 1960, Wildlife Protection Act 1972 (Amended 1976 and 1988), National Parks Act 1980 (Amendment 1983), and most importantly the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954. The Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 provides for the setting up and establishment of the Orang Asli Reserve Land. It also includes the power accorded to the Director-General of the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli to order Orang Asli out of such reserved land at its discretion, and award compensation to affected people. A landmark case in 2002 was the Sagong Tasi vs. Government of Selangor. It concerned the state using its powers under the 1954 Act to evict Orang Asli from gazetted Orang Asli Reserve Land. The High Court ruled in favour of Sagong Tasi, who represented the Orang Asli, and was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Although the Tapah court decision on Thursday, October 11 may not be in the same league as the Sagong Tasi case, its significance can never be dismissed. It is, after all, a vindication of sorts for a community long oppressed by the very people entrusted to care for them. It is poetic justice for the four who were doing what their forefathers had been doing before them – eking out a living by foraging in the jungles. The vast jungle tracts, which are slowly but surely shrinking due to human encroachments, are fair game for the powerful and the moneyed, on one side, and the weak and the poor, on the other. It is akin to the confrontation between the Red Indians and the white settlers in 19th century USA.

The fact that the quartet was defended by the likeable legal team of Augustine Anthony and Amani William Hunt Abdullah, better known as Bah Tony, a part Semai, lends credence to its importance. Augustine had argued that there had been contradictions in the evidence produced in court. The shotgun, belonging to a Rela personnel, referred to in the ballistic report was different from the one seized from the accused. A Veterinary Services Department officer had told the court that she was the one who performed the autopsy on the dead tiger but an earlier report said that a Wildlife Department officer did the examination. The Rela officer who testified on behalf of the prosecution could not even differentiate one shotgun from another.

“The contradictions were simply too glaring for a conviction,” said Augustine. “Therefore, the court was justified in dismissing the four.”

The victory may be long overdue but more problems are in the offing. The latest being the slapping of Orang Asli students by a Malay teacher for failing to recite the doa during school assembly.

Too Little Too Late

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by Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The term “civil society” is often linked to freedom and liberty of the masses. As such, those who advocate civil society may not necessarily be the apple in the eye of an establishment that abhors free speech, free press and freedom of movements. Malaysians are only recently introduced to this term, thus many are still unfamiliar with its meaning. The concept of a civil society made its mark in American discourses only in the late 1980s.

The simplest way to define civil society is to consider it as the “third sector” after two oft-quoted sectors, public and private sectors. The distinction between the two is that civil society refers essentially to the so-called “intermediary institutions” such as professional associations, religious groups, labour unions, citizen advocacy organisations et al, which give a face and a voice to society in general.

The empowerment of these groupings not only enriches but enhances public participation in democracies. That, however, is the ideal. But can we achieve such lofty standards when proponents of a group that vouches for free and fair elections are being routinely hounded and demonised?

Since Dato’ Seri DiRaja Dr Zambry Abd Kadir’s ascendency to the Chief Ministerial post of Perak on February 6, 2009, talks were rife that constructive engagement with civil society would be the staple of the new government. The days that the government knows best were over, declared the Prime Minister and the sentiment was echoed by Zambry, nonetheless. Perakeans were thrilled that people’s participation in determining their destiny was becoming a reality.

Institut Darul Ridzuan (IDR), an independent think-tank formed in 2005 and given a new lease of life by Zambry, was tasked to prepare the groundwork for the much-awaited discourse. Overtures to non-governmental organisations, associations and advocacy groups were made. They were tempted with the prospect of being elected to the august Majlis Masyarakat Sivil Aman Jaya (Aman Jaya Civil Society Council). The council will consist of both BN friendly and unfriendly NGOs’ heads selected based on pre-determined criteria.

That idea was mooted in mid-2009 but became a non-starter largely due to inertia on the part of IDR. “There were simply too many hurdles to clear,” said a lady staff entrusted with its organisation. Finally when it took off the timing was way off the course and so was public interest. The invitation, that we from the media received, warned of limited seating capacity in the hall where the inaugural council meeting would be held. We were required to come early, as the invitation proudly proclaimed that “participants are strictly for those who have registered before the deadline”.

The first Majlis Masyarakat Sivil Aman Jaya meeting was held on Sunday, September 30 at the Operations Room of the Secretariat Building, Ipoh. Dato’ Dr Mah Hang Soon, standing in for the Chief Minister, officiated at the launch. Some 200-odd people were present to witness the ceremony, a far cry from what was generally expected.

The highlight was the appointment of 45 members of the council. The deliberation that followed was a tame affair, as members were prone to making recommendations which were unrelated to the subject in discussion. Initial jitters and unfamiliarity could be the reasons behind the hiccups.

What is most pertinent, however, is the timing of the meeting. Having it at the tail-end of the state government’s tenure in office and at a time when election fever is running high, is not the best of options.

“It’s better late than never,” said one observer. I feel otherwise. The state government has missed a golden opportunity to engage civil society in Perak on an even keel. This feeble attempt at interaction, done at the very last minute, may seem correct to some but, in all fairness, it is too little too late. The opportunity cost lost is immense, and so is the goodwill.

Mayor Deserves a Break

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by Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Much has been said about the shortcomings of Ipoh City Council and how insensitive it has become of late. These weaknesses have a source and the one person who bears the brunt of Ipohites’ ire is none other than the mayor. It is no mean task to shoulder such a heavy responsibility unless you are a man of steel. I do mean in the literal sense, as well.

Try imagining being the head of a corporation with some 2,700 personnel under your command and exercising control over an empire the size of Singapore! That is the extent of your responsibility, which is not only debilitating but bothersome. It will make mere mortals like you and I throw up. And to add salt to the wound, half of your staff members are either redundant or unproductive. Managing this workforce is a bunch of underlings who have been on the job far too long that most behave as if they own the council. They are the irksome “Little Napoleons” whose notoriety is second to none.

What I am about to say may not go down well with readers like Baljit Singh and the many out there who have a bone to pick with the council and, in default, with the mayor, Dato’ Roshidi Hashim. Baljit’s broadsides fill the letter columns of the national dailies and, occasionally, Ipoh Echo’s website. I don’t necessarily blame Baljit for keeping a steady stream of letters to the editors of Star and New Straits Times. He has plenty to complain about regarding services rendered by a bloated council which is bursting at the seams – a council which is prone to making nonsensical pronouncements than tackling problems at the source. One other description which I am fond of making is “a council that never counsels”.

The mayor being human, has his flaws, as that is to be expected. If ever he is a man of steel then the steel is not impenetrable. But the one good point about Mayor Roshidi is his pleasant persona. I have never seen him lose his cool over matters which would have made others go berserk. Once while driving around the city in the wee hours of the morning, he bumped into a man disposing rubbish at an illegal dumpsite. When he identified himself as the mayor the man simply smiled and left.

Maybe Roshidi does not look stern enough or maybe he does not look like a mayor. Whatever the assumptions are the fact remains that the man is human. He may not be perfect but as a good leader, he not only exudes charm and charisma, he is able to remain calm in crisis. Humility is another factor which not many leaders possess. Roshidi has heaps of it.

Ipoh Echo is considered a ‘thorn in the side’ of the mayor and council staff. Notwithstanding this, Ipoh Echo is the only community newspaper in the country. And since its objective is to provide a platform for Ipohites to voice their concerns for the city, our relevance is never in doubt. The council, on the other hand, should take this in its stride. There are no other municipalities in the country that have to contend with a community newspaper that reports on their activities – illicit or otherwise.

Residents, for no rhyme or reason, would fault the council for the woes that they are encumbered with. They fail to realise that they are part of the problem too. I am equally guilty of not cautioning my neighbours for doing things which they should not. One has turned his garden into a jungle while another takes in strays. The animals would mess up my potted plants and chase after my cat. But being a good neighbour, I turn a blind eye.

Roshidi’s promise to make Ipoh 85 per cent clean in a year’s time may sound hollow to many. We should not dismiss his assertion as an idle boast. The man is trying his very best and the least we could do is to provide him the support he so badly needs. Like any civil servant, Roshidi is just doing his job in order to earn his keep. Give the poor man a break. He deserves it.

 

Will Food Poisoning Ever End?

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Food Poisoning, ipoh echo editorialIncidence of food poisoning in Perak schools is on the rise. Based on a Perak Health Department report given to Ipoh Echo recently, the trend is on an upward swing from 37 cases in 2008 dipping somewhat to 28 in 2009, 26 in 2010 and 30 cases in 2011. Until August 28, the number of reported cases stands at 29.

The latest involved students of Sekolah Agama Bantuan Kerajaan Al-Imam Asy Syafiee in Jelapang. Fifty seven students aged between 13 to 17 years old were treated at the school while a school warden was admitted to the Ipoh General Hospital for observation. The victims had diarrhoea and were vomiting uncontrollably after consuming food prepared at the hostel kitchen for their breaking of fast on the evening of Thursday, August 2.

The cause of the poisoning, according to a media report released by Dato’ Dr Mah Hang Soon, Executive Councillor for Health, was chicken rice which was the main dish for the breaking of fast that fateful evening. The report says, “There are several contributing factors why the incidence occurred. The food was poorly stored. It was kept at room temperature and left uncovered for over 4 hours.”

The affected premise was closed immediately by the state health department. The canteen operator was told to clean the kitchen and mess hall. He and his staff were given on-the-spot instructions on food safety by health officers.

Actions by the state health department were commendable, to say the least. The fact that its officers were on the site soon after a report was lodged by the assistant medical officer of the Manjoi Government Clinic shows the department’s seriousness in addressing the problem head-on. However, one lingering question keeps bugging sceptics like me. Why does the menace continue to haunt our society, especially schoolchildren?

The major recipients of this gastro-intestinal scourge are students of the much-maligned religious schools, both government and private owned. Boarding schools, particularly, are on the extreme end of the health spectrum. Students from these schools bear the brunt of the bacteria known scientifically as “Bacillus Cereus and Staphylococcus”. Some are afflicted not once but several times.

Is there a long-term solution to food poisoning in schools? If the reasons are poorly prepared food and ill-trained food handlers, why can’t the problem be eradicated for good? I posed this question to the health department but no answers were forthcoming from the deputy director at the time of reporting.

For the first seven months of this year (January to July) a total of 10,837 premises were inspected in the state. They covered schools, restaurants, food courts, hawker stalls and factories. However, only two hundred and fifteen compound notices, with a face value of RM45,600, were issued. This amounts to barely 2 per cent of the number of inspections done.

What does this indicate? Has the department been thorough in its job? Is the standard of cleanliness above the mean point? Have stall and canteen operators become angels overnight? There are many unanswered questions looming ominously above us. Judging from what I have seen and experienced, the overall standards have remained stagnant for a long while. Just take a walk through some of Ipoh’s famous food courts – Hollywood, Woolley and the Bercham Food Station. You will appreciate my concern.

Incidentally, there are enough laws available in the Local Government Act 1976, the Food Act 1983 and the Prevention and Control of Infectious Disease Act 1988 to ensure food safety and to keep culprits in check. Are the laws being sparingly enforced for reasons best known to the authorities? My guess is as good as yours.


Tariq Ramadan: Standing Up For Your Rights

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Islam, Democracy and Human RightsIt was one of those rare moments when something unexpected comes a calling. I was pleasantly surprised when my good friend, Din Merican, texted me to inform me of a talk by one of the world’s foremost Islamic philosophers and thinkers, Tariq Ramadan. Tariq was on a three-day visit to this part of the world recently and was making whistle stops in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta for discourses on Islam.

I jumped at the opportunity to hear a worldly man who has made a niche for himself advocating the study and re-interpretation of Islamic texts with emphasis on the heterogeneous nature of Western Muslims.

Tariq Ramadan, incidentally, is a Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University. With such credentials Tariq will, without doubt, attract the wrong kind of following, especially in a conservative Muslim country like Malaysia.

Like they say, curiosity kills the cat. I immediately registered myself and my wife as participants for the lunchtime date at Traders Hotel Penang (formerly Shangri-La) on Tuesday, July 17. Coincidentally, I was in the city for an overdue medical check-up. The talk was sponsored by the state government under the ambit of Penang Institute, a think-tank consisting of the brightest brains formed by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng upon his ascension to the state’s highest political post in March 2008.

Tariq, as expected, did not mince his words when he took to the podium addressing the 300-odd lunch crowd consisting of a curious mix of Malaysians – the young, the not-so-young and the old. Interestingly, most of the audience consisted of non-Muslims with a sprinkling of Middle Eastern men and women whom I later learned were Palestinians. There was no shortage of Ipohites who formed a substantial number seated in the hotel’s spacious yet opulent ballroom cum convention hall.

Tariq’s lecture entitled, “Islam, Democracy and Human Rights: The Awakening of the Muslim World” related to things happening in the country, especially in the realm of Islamic jurisprudence. One very pertinent point he raised was on the rule of law or in our context, the rule by law.

Citizens, he reasoned, must struggle within the given framework. They must oppose existing or new laws which are unjust and discriminatory. “You know how many laws in this country need to be reformed,” he said. His statement amused the crowd who cheered him on. “I am not with the Opposition, not in political terms but rather in philosophical terms. I say something which is very true. Your model is not perfect and neither are your mores.”

“In the name of your conscience, as a Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or whatever you are. In the name of the citizenship you have, it’s your duty to stand up for what’s right, if not for your government, it’s for the people who live in your country.”

Tariq had touched a raw nerve and it reverberated in the hall. It resonated with the audience who remained glued to their seats, listening attentively to his every word. I was looking for some government sympathisers in the crowd but saw none. How I wish there were.

To be a good citizen, regardless of race and religion, one must observe three basic fundamentals, said Tariq. “You must obey the laws of the land, you must master the language and, above all, you must be loyal.”

Loyalty, however, has its limitations, he reasoned. “It should be critical loyalty not blind loyalty.” I find this most appropriate given the propensity of the “privileged class” to blindly support whatever that comes from Putrajaya. Civil Service, Police and Armed Forces personnel are among those in this group who not only practise but subscribe to the maxim.

Mohd Sofian Makinuddin, the high-strung Special Branch officer from Bukit Aman is one typical example. His fixation with the Opposition being infiltrated by Communist and Jemaah Islamiyah seems absurd but to him that is the truth. This is the kind of blind loyalty which Tariq abhors.

As if to absolve himself of the tyranny committed by Muslims worldwide, Tariq surmised, rather succinctly,” No community is better than the other just because they’re Muslims.”

One member of the audience, a Palestinian, asked Tariq why he espoused the atrocities committed by Americans on Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo while Palestinians are being routinely killed and maimed by the Zionist regime. “I won’t venture to describe the atrocities committed in Arab prisons. Similarly, I won’t venture to explain the killing and maiming of Arabs by Arab regimes.”

The impact the 49-year old Swiss citizen of Egyptian origin had on the audience was electrifying. He is a true thinker of a different pedigree. Tariq wannabes Ridzuan Tee, Jamil Khir Johari and a horde of our so-called Islamic scholars (ulamaks) can never come close to him, not now not ever.